The 2023 Nobel prizes – What they mean for higher education

What are the big take-aways from the 2023 Nobels in the sciences? There are several clear lessons with relevance to higher education. While the world has been awaiting the rise of Asia to the heights of global science, there is no sign of this diversification in the 2023 Nobels.

Eight of the nine prize winners are affiliated with Western universities – six in the United States. The ninth is Alexei Ekimov, joint winner of the Chemistry prize, chief scientist at a private company in New York. The prize winners, as in years past, were educated in a variety of Western countries – though it seems to be a bumper year for Eastern Europe, with two educated in Hungary and one educated in the former Soviet Union.

A majority have worked at institutions in a variety of countries over the course of their careers including Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, South Korea, Sweden and the United States. This shows once again that science remains international and internationalised, though skewed towards a typical subset of wealthy, Western countries.

And unusually (though perhaps unsurprisingly), the career of one of this year’s winners, Katalin Karikó, shows the explicit impact of sexism and the challenges of working on non-mainstream ideas in the pursuit of Nobel-worthy research.

Science remains partially international

While the 2023 Nobelists are mostly located in the US, their scientific and academic careers, similar to trends in recent years, have been remarkably international. They were born in five different countries – three in the United States, two in France, two in Hungary, one in Tunisia and one in the former Soviet Union. The group received their bachelor degrees in four different countries, and doctorates in five.

As might be expected, this distinguished cohort has held academic and scientific positions in at least 10 countries and has had quite mobile careers.

France has hosted four of the nine at academic institutions over the course of their educational and professional journeys, and Germany has hosted five of the nine either within academic or corporate positions at universities, research institutes and a biotechnology company. However, the US remains the country with the most present affiliations and features in the career trajectories of eight of the nine winners.

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